South Africa was readmitted to the International Cricket Council in London in June 1991 and the World Cup was coming up in February of 1992. There was never any discussion at all about us playing in it. In August of 1991 I brought out Clive Lloyd, the famous West Indian cricketer, to help promote cricket in the townships. He wanted to meet Mandela, so we went to Shell House and there was a big contingent of Swedish media there. The door was open and I saw him for the first time.
"Cricket chaps, come in!" he says, and we all go in and the Swedish media follow. He complimented us on the cricket development programme in the townships. After about two minutes, someone said to him, "What about South Africa playing in the World Cup?", and he says, "They've got to play!"
Lobbying began within 24 hours and we played in the World Cup. It was as simple as that. That was his muscle.
He's an extraordinary person, in his capacity to forgive, not forget. Before the Rugby World Cup in 1995, he went out publicly to support the Springbok emblem. It was the main item on the news and I was asked what I thought. I said, "Look, we have enormous respect for Mr Mandela but we are not going to support it."
He phoned me the next morning and invited me to lunch and for 40 minutes he explained in simple terms that he knew how important the Springbok emblem in rugby was to the Afrikaner and he wanted to thank them for supporting him in democracy. How can you argue with that?
At the final of the Rugby World Cup when he walked on to the field, the crowd was 99% white, mainly Afrikaners, and they were chanting, "Nelson, Nelson!" It was mind-boggling. Before our team went on to the field he went into the change-room with his Springbok jersey. And Steve Tshwete told me that on that morning President Mandela had phoned him and said, "I want a No 6 Springbok rugby jersey." Steve said he phoned somebody and got a No 6 jersey, and they gave it to him. And then, unannounced, he walked on to the field wearing it. There was no way they weren't going to play for him.
And just to convey how his touch with kings, prime ministers, with the man in the street never changed: when we used to bring him to the cricket, the first thing he'd do was go to the catering area. We're lined up, administrators white and black, but we've got to wait while he greets the staff. And when we introduced everyone one by one, he would use a stock phrase: "You might not remember me." You might not remember me!
In February 1992, I invited him and Walter Sisulu to a triangular one-day competition between South Africa, Pakistan and the West Indies. At tea time there was a request that he come to the change-rooms and meet the teams - you can't believe the emotion when these chaps were shaking hands with him. There were two ways back to the Long Room and Mr Mandela chose to go onto the field and a chap who must have been five metres away threw an orange at him, like a missile. It missed him and I caught it. Mr Mandela just carried on as though nothing had happened. Just before he left, about five o'clock, I said to his main security bloke, "Did he see that"? He said, "Of course he did." I said, "Why did he stay so calm?" He said, "He wasn't going to show that person he was ruffled."
He's the greatest fundraiser of all time. Whenever the phone goes and it's Mr Mandela, the corporates say, "What's it going to cost us this time?" Once he asked to see me and he said, "Ali, you would agree that I've helped you chaps with cricket?" I said, "Of course, Mr Mandela." He said, "Look, I've got this school in the Northern Province. I'm going to need a million rand to upgrade it; I think it would be nice if cricket gave a million rand."
So I brought this up at the next board meeting and someone said, "We're not a charity organisation, we have to administer cricket." So I said, "If you don't want to give it, you've got to tell him so yourselves."
Ray White, the chairman, said, "All those who are opposed, put up their right hands." And, of course, nobody did.
Before the start of the Cricket World Cup which we hosted in 2003, he phoned me to wish us every success.
I replied, "I really do appreciate that, Mr Mandela."
He said, "Ali, my name is Madiba."
I said, "Mr Mandela, where I come from, if you respect someone enormously you call him Mister."
He replied, "Ali, where I come from, if you don't call me Madiba you are not regarded as a true friend of mine!"
Madiba, I feel truly privileged to have met you in the '90s.